Did you think the Nashville MLS stadium was a done deal when every relevant piece of Metro legislation passed the Council Sept. 6? You should have been right! But you are not.
Quickly, let’s run through the established timeline before getting into the updates (skip to below the bullets if you just want the latest):
- May 19, 2016: Nashville SC acquires Nashville FC’s intellectual property with intentions of taking the club from NPSL (amateur) to USL (professional) ranks.
- March 4, 2017: John Ingram acquires majority ownership of Nashville SC, and his bid to bring Major League Soccer to Nashville is unified with the club.
- November 7, 2017: Metro Council approves initial resolution to issue revenue bonds for the purpose of building a Major League Soccer stadium at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds.
- November 29, 2017: MLS announces four finalists for expansion: Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville, and Sacramento. The four bid groups present their proposals at the league’s New York offices Dec. 6.
- December 20, 2017: Major League Soccer announces that Nashville will be the 24th franchise in the league (Miami – which had previously been promised a team – would be announced as the 25th on Jan. 29, 2018, and FC Cincinnati would become No. 26 with a May 29, 2018 announcement.
- March 20, 2018: Metro Council strikes down a resolution proposed by District 12 councilmember Steve Glover to rescind RS2017-910.
- March 22, 2018: Stand Up Nashville organizes a community benefits meeting (this would ultimately lead to the Community Benefits Agreement that earns SUN’s endorsement).
- April 10, 2018: District 20 councilmember DeCosta Hastings hosts a meeting in his district to discuss the potential of locating the stadium in Metro Center, per a bill co-sponsored by anti-stadium zealot Glover (Hastings does not realize he’s the patsy in a delay tactic, for what it’s worth).
- May 22, 2018: The final of three community planning meetings in regards to stadium design is held at the Fairgrounds Expo Center. No Save Our Fairgrounds members (save WSMV “journalist” Nancy Amons) are present.
- June 21, 2018: Architecture firm Populous is selected to design Nashville’s MLS stadium.
- August 21, 2018: Metro Council’s Budget and Finance committee votes to recommend disapproval of stadium legislation. (A quick aside here to get into the weeds in terms of the difference between what that was, and why it wasn’t all done when RS2017-910 passed: These pieces of legislation are the individual components required to build the stadium: 2018-1289’s purpose was to recommend demolishing of certain buildings on the property to prep the construction site, and to approve the establishment of a ticket tax on events at the stadium to pay back the loans required for its construction).
- September 4, 2018: Stand Up Nashville announces signed Community Benefits Agreement, including provisions related to minority hiring, minimum wages, and workforce housing for stadium project.
- September 4, 2018: All relevant Metro Council legislation required to build the soccer stadium (Bills 1289, 1290, 1291, Resolution 1328) gets final approval.
- October 29, 2018: Construction begins on new Expo buildings (to be completed before stadium construction commences).
Now, the stuff that has happened since mostly involves Save Our Fairgrounds, having lost a political battle, attempting to wage a legal one. The initial filing date of the lawsuit is September 4, and I believe it was actually filed prior to Metro’s approval of the relevant legislation at that evening’s Metro Council meeting.
The fate of that lawsuit is the primary ongoing drama in regards to the stadium at this point. If Save Our Fairgrounds is successful in suing the city to prevent changes to the Fairgrounds, that’s yet another legal hurdle. The lawsuit has been dismissed once, but in a manner (“without prejudice”) that allowed it to be re-filed.
The plaintiffs – collectively “Save Our Fairgrounds,” for the sake of simplicity here – have requested a temporary injunction from Chancery Court Chancellor (“judge” for simplicity’s sake, with Chancery being the branch of the judiciary that decides on matters of equity, rather than law) Ellen Hobbs Lyle. That injunction is to halt all construction activities at the site of the Fairgrounds pending the outcome of this lawsuit. That injunction was denied Friday (a previous attempt was denied Oct. 26), meaning construction can go on.
The next hearing in the case is scheduled for 1 p.m. Nov. 30. That is a Rule 16 conference, for the purpose of selecting a trial date. That is to say – barring an unlikely settlement prior to Nov. 30 (or a rescheduling – the court’s dockets aren’t updated in as timely a fashion as I’d like) – that is the next date on which there will be an update.
What are the grounds of the lawsuit?
SOF alleges that Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee is in violation of the Metro Charter. Specifically, they claim that Metro’s proposed changes to the Fairgrounds site, particularly the construction of a stadium is a violation of 11.602(d) of the Metro Charter. That’s the famed “2011 Referendum” that must be “honored” per the t-shirts of the SOF group. Let’s read the language:
All activities being conducted on the premises of the Tennessee State Fairgrounds as of December 31, 2010, including, but not limited to, the Tennessee State Fair, Expo Center Events, Flea Markets, and Auto Racing, shall be continued on the same site. No demolition of the premises shall be allowed to occur without approval by ordinance receiving 27 votes by the Metropolitan Council or amendment to the Metropolitan Charter.
So, let’s unpack it here: The State Fair, Expo Center events, flea markets, and auto racing events may not be moved from the Fairgrounds site. HOWEVER: there’s a pretty obvious caveat included in the language of the Metro Charter: without approval by ordinance receiving 27 votes by the Metropolitan Council or amendment to the Metropolitan Charter.
Your spoiler: the Metro Charter has not been further amended, so we’re dealing with the other stipulation: approval by 27 members of Metro Council. It seems that unless the legislative action (1289, 1291, RS1328) that involve moving one of those four activities from its current location didn’t pass with 27 votes, there’s no legal grounds for this suit.
- BL2018-1289 – passed 31-8.
- BL2018-1291 – passed 30-9.
- RS2018-1328 – passed 28-6 (5 not voting).
So… as I’ve harped upon regularly over the course of this unnecessarily protracted legal battle, there is no violation of the Metro Charter, and indeed, to prevent construction on the site would be a failure to “Honor the 2011 Referendum.” With a caveat that I Am Not A Lawyer, it seems there’s no grounds for the suit.
Presumably, with one dismissal of the case already in the books, the judicial side of the law sees it that way as well. I would expect another dismissal (again: not a lawyer, this is common sense analysis, not necessarily the legal nitty-gritty), and likely with prejudice this time, to prevent SOF from continuing to file frivolously.
What’s going on with construction now?
While construction begins on the new Expo Center buildings (which will be completed prior to demolition of the current Expo Buildings, allowing for uses thereof to continue), the Fair Park site is getting a makeover, as well. This is a separate item, but helps turn what had been mostly wasted space into community parks, including a trailhead for the greenway network, a dog park, and community athletic fields. (If you’re unfamiliar with the Fairgrounds site, the primary areas under dispute are at the top of a hill, facing toward the North. This is essentially at the bottom of the other side of the hill, on the South and East portions of the Fairgrounds site).
Construction on the Expo Center buildings is taking place on the Fair property lot across Walsh Road (which will be closed during construction). Walsh will be re-routed to remain East-West – it currently bends to the North at its eastern terminus to meet Nolensville Pike – when it re-opens.